16th Sunday Ordinary Time
Deacon William Meehan
Preached: July 23, 2023
Why does God permit evil? This is one of life’s big questions and, quite honestly, one that makes our faith difficult. We see this question arise over and over, not only in our own time, but throughout the ages. It is the theme of the story of Job in the Old Testament, and it recurs in the New Testament. In this Gospel passage, Jesus speaks three parables to the crowd – all about the glorious kingdom of heaven. But later that day, the disciples come to him asking about just one parable: the parable of the good and bad seeds.
The other stories seem easy for them to understand, but they struggle with this one. They want to understand why it is that God would allow the evil seed to continue to grow. They are asking why God permits evil in the world.
Now, we need to be clear that God does not want evil things to happen. God is good – he is goodness itself. He certainly does not want us to suffer. However, what we can say is that God allows there to be evil. God created us with free will, which means that there is always the possibility to choose the bad instead of the good.
Throughout the history of the Church, Christians have contemplated the question of evil, trying to make sense of it. In the 5 th Century, St Isidore was reflecting upon this exact passage. And he too asked why it is that God could allow evil – why he would defer judgment. Simply put: why doesn’t God pull up the weeds now?
St Isidore’s response to this question is interesting. He says that what God is doing is giving us time for repentance. God does not want to condemn – he wants to save. We hear it said repeatedly throughout the Scriptures that “the Lord is good and forgiving, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” By waiting, by not pulling up the weeds now, God is giving us a chance, holding out hope, that we may all return to him and grow in faith.
We should all be grateful for this time of repentance. It is very easy to think that this passage is referring to those who are not Catholic, or to those who have consciously chosen to distance themselves from the Church. And it is true that God awaits their conversion. But this also applies to each one of us. We are sinners – we are not perfect. Our freedom means that we can choose to follow God; it also means that we can, and often do, place our own desires above his will.
Sin ruptures communion with God, and it harms our relationship with him. Because of sin and the temptation to sin, we find ourselves in a constant struggle of conversion. And this is why we should be grateful that God is patient. He is patient with us, and he gives us every opportunity to recognize our errors, to repent, and to strive to return to communion with him.
We all sin – we all make mistakes. But our God is the God of mercy – he is the God of forgiveness. And where do we experience God’s forgiveness more than in the truly beautiful sacrament of reconciliation?
The invitation to reconciliation with God was a major part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In the sacrament of reconciliation, God calls us out of darkness into a marvellous light. Sin ruptures our relationship with God, and it is only God who can forgive our sins. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, we come before God, sorrowful for our sins, asking for his forgiveness.
It can be difficult to admit our mistakes. But when we make an examination of conscience, we do so guided by the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit helps us to understand our failings so that we know how we can change in the future, and improve our relationship with God.
In recognizing and naming our struggles, we are better able to overcome them. And then, we go the sacrament, feeling sorrow for the way our mistakes have harmed ourselves, others, and our relationship with God. In that moment, the priest stands as the sign and instrument of God’s merciful love.
When we hear the words “I absolve you from your sins” we know that we are truly forgiven. Our friendship with God is restored and there is an outpouring of God’s grace. We draw strength from the sacrament as we try to live good faith- filled lives.
Despite our failings, God remains open to us to turn back to him and to seek his forgiveness. And this hope for conversion is exactly why St Isidore says that God does not rashly judge us and condemn us for our sinfulness. But the parable of the weeds does not end with the evil weeds being permitted to grow. No, Jesus is clear that, at the final judgment, the weeds will be gathered up. We will be judged, and there will be justice.
However, we should avoid the temptation to focus exclusively on our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others. The disciples fixate on the problem of evil so much that they neglect the goodness of the Lord. They forget that, although there is evil, God’s goodness is so much greater. They focus on the first parable, neglecting the others. But, these second and third parables are important. They remind us that, despite the weeds, despite the evil in our world, the kingdom of God will grow, and it will be glorious. The three parables work together.
So yes, the problem of evil in our world is one of the great theological questions. And while this is an important question, what we must also remember is that God has already conquered sin and evil through his Son, Jesus Christ. We can rejoice in the fact that despite evil, God can and will always bring about a greater good. His plan will be fulfilled and his kingdom will be glorious. Our God is a God of mercy abounding in love. Let us never hesitate to seek his mercy.
First Sunday of Lent
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: March 1, 2020
Evil. We do not need to look far in human history or in our world news to see the reality of evil within our world.
One of my favourite TV shows this year is called Evil. Not sure if any of you have seen it. In the show there is a Catholic seminarian who is working as part of an assessment team for the Catholic Church. They investigate purported supernatural incidents. Working with the seminarian is a skeptical forensic psychologist, she is a lapsed Catholic, and a contractor who is not a believer and is responsible for investigating scientific explanations for these incidents. Together this team assesses cases of reported miracles, demons, possession and so on. It is a simple TV show, but it does creatively reflect on the reality of evil as it enters human lives in different ways.
Our Catholic Faith accepts that evil exists, and we are all capable of evil. So, it is important for us to understand the reality of evil, the roots of evil. We should face it openly, otherwise it finds a way to sneak into our lives and into our institutions. As we have seen so clearly these past years, evil is able to enter the church as well.
On this First Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us a set of readings that all reflect on the reality of evil, provide insights into evil. It gives images of evil as a serpent, as the devil. But, the underlying insights are what really matter in these stories.
First, the story of the Fall from the Book of Genesis. This is such an insightful story revealing much about the psychology of sin and evil. After the creation of the man and woman who are in the garden of Eden, we see sin and evil enter the world. The serpent tempts the woman by convincing her that she is entitled to more. Instead of being grateful for all that she has, the woman is focused on what she does not have, what she is not able to have. Sin and evil so often enters our lives when we stop being grateful, when we are obsessed with what we do not have. Then we begin to be resentful and feel we have the right to do whatever in order to get something.
Next, she brings the man into this and gives some to him. Again, when we fall into evil ways we often try to bring others along with us. We justify our behaviour by having others join us. The result of the evil is that they are full of shame, they have to cover themselves up afraid to be seen. We know our behaviour is falling into sin and evil when we need to hide, to cover it up. Later in the story we will see the woman blaming the serpent and the man blaming the woman. Again, our tendency to blame others instead of taking responsibility for what we do.
This story in Genesis is a very insightful study of the reality of evil and how it enters our human lives.
In the Gospel, we see the story of the Temptation of Jesus in the desert. Instead of the image of the serpent, there is the image of the devil tempting Jesus before he begins his ministry. The Temptation to follow a path different from the path of God. Instead of self-sacrificing love to embrace power. Jesus is tempted to follow a path so often followed by leaders in this world, the way of power, success and domination. But, Jesus is called to a path of love and the gift of his very self. All of us can be tempted to choose power over others rather than service, to want to be successful in the eyes of others rather than do what is right, to win rather than to do what is good and true.
It is important for us to understand the reality of evil. To realize that we are capable of evil, that others are capable of evil, that our institutions are capable of evil, including the church. This keeps us awake and keeps us honest with ourselves.
Evil enters our lives when we stop being grateful for what we have and become focused ongetting what we do not have. Evil enters our lives when we give into lies, rationalizing, blaming others.
Evil always enters our lives through falsehoods, lies, lack of truth. The greatest way to avoid evil is utter honesty. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and with others. Lies are like opening a door that allows evil to enter our lives and our institutions.
Evil is a reality, understand it and face it honestly. Do not be afraid of evil, for evil has no power except what we give it. Evil has no power at all when faced with truth and honesty.